Monday, September 28, 2009

LWF&D goes to Vermont on a grown-up vacation

This past weekend, AV and I hopped in his trusty car and made our way to Vermont. We wound our way through Connecticut, stopping for a few memorable moments at a Wonder Bread/Hostess factory outlet, at which we spent $10 and emerged with who knows what, and up through Massachusetts towards Mount Snow. And as we checked in, we prepared ourselves for a weekend of Being Grown-Ups.

For we were there, not just for leaf peeping (which we did), but for the Vermont Life Wine and Harvest Festival. It was a delightful little craft-and-wine-and-cheese fest, and we had decided last minute to attend. So on Saturday morning, after waking up to a crisp, clear day of the type only available in Vermont, we rolled on over to the festival to soak up some food and wine. And crafts.

Behold, our journey through the food tent:

We were greeted by the wood fired pizza booth. A good sign.

The wine and food booth!

The craft booth, from afar

More tents...and the BBQ truck

Inside the wine and food tent.

The Grafton Village Cheese booth

More cheddars

So much cheddar

Vermont smoke and cure... AV tried the pepperoni and enjoyed it

The Skinny Pancake crepe booth had a huge crowd

Carrot cupcakes from Crazy Russian Girls. After we painstakingly transported it to our hotel room, AV pronounced it just "okay." I think he's spoiled on Billy's baked goods.

Fresh mozzarellas from Maplebrook

Outstanding goat cheese from Vermont Butter and Cheese

One of the wine tasting booths-- Lincoln Peak Vineyard

Our final snack before hitting the craft booth: Pepperoni Pizza from the pizza booth!

The verdict: the festival was a ton of fun. The eats were mostly cheese samples, and the wine offerings were varied, although I was a bit disgruntled that they charged nominal fees for all the wine tastings (in addition to the festival entrance fee). We ended up with one bottle of Cabernet and then made our way to the craft tent, which was full of delightful Vermont-ish artisans. I was too engrossed in the incredible carved wooden bowls and the samples of homemade fudge to take pictures (oops), but trust me that the crafts were crafty and somehow I ended up with a $13 box of buttercrunch. For my grandma. I swear.

So for our first foray into the world of grown-up trips, I'd say we had a smashing success. The festival was quite a delight, augmented admirably by the weekly flea market taking place across the street (we bought beer glasses). And getting out of the city to take in the clean Vermont air was much needed. Well done, us!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back to Vong for twists on greatness

Two weekends ago (I'm a bit behind...) AV and I made our way back to Vong. I'd received a gift certificate there for my birthday, courtesy of my delightful parents, and though I'd enjoyed it thoroughly with both AV and my mother on two occasions in the same week, I hadn't yet found the time to go back. But finally the time had come, and we were back, hoping for the same bursts of greatness we'd witnessed the last time around.

As with last time, we started with the papadum chips with peanut sauce. Incredibly savory and compulsively popable, we both could be satisfied with a huge bowl of these chips, a vat of sauce, and perhaps a couch and a football game. But I digress.


For his entree, AV went with the vegetarian version of their summer rolls, but instead of the standard dipping sauce, he requested the spicy sriracha dipping sauce that usually accompanies the salt-and-pepper calimari. He was exceedingly happy with his decision.


I was sad to see that their green papaya and apple salad, which I had enjoyed so thoroughly last time, was no longer on the menu. But it was replaced with "Mango salad, lime and chili dressing," which looked promising. I ordered it. And I was glad I had. It had thick strips of mango along with the same delicious odds-and-ends that had made the papaya salad so delicious-- cashews, fried green beans, cherry tomato halves. There was also a bizarre hunk of iceberg lettuce. Sure. Regardless, it was one of the better salads I've had in a while-- not quite as good as the papaya version, but certainly worth returning for.

A medley of savory and sweet deliciousness

On to dessert. Our amazing caramelized pineapple treat from before was also gone from the menu, so we were left to our own devices. AV overheard another table order an off-the-menu molten chocolate cake, and he followed suit. With vanilla ice cream, it was a solid rendition of the classic.

Gooey inside

I ordered just plain coconut sorbet. With that order, I got three large scoops of flaky, chilly coconut sorbet-- delicious-- and a long cookie-- forgettable. It was so much sorbet I almost couldn't finish it. Well, almost.

Coconut fabulosity

Even with all that food, we were still left with more than half of my $100 gift certificate left over. So, Vong, we'll be back-- for more four Offset Spatula action and whatever other delicious surprises you can throw our way.

200 E. 54th Street

LWF&D goes to Wellesley, where the Ginger is Blue

The early part of this week found me in Massachusetts for a recruiting trip for work. Coincidentally, it was also my mom's birthday, so Mom, Dad and I convened at Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA, on a quiet Monday night for a celebratory dinner.

Blue Ginger, Ming Tsai's flagship restaurant, is a tastefully decorated, comfortable Asian fusion restaurant just off the main street in Wellesley. We were greeted by an effusive host and led to a table near the open kitchen. Our waitress, who through the evening demonstrated herself to be both surly and languid, an odd combo, brought us menus and water. She did not smile. At all.

But that's okay, because we had bread! Three kinds! A flatbread that tasted like egg roll skins, a white bread with a crackly crust, and a white bread with a glossy crust. I downed a piece of the crackly white bread, and it was quite good, with a satisfying flavor and nice stretchy texture.

Nicely organized bread

Then the appetizers: both Mom and Dad went for the Sesame Caesar Salad. Both seemed to enjoy it; it looked simple but well done, as all Caesar salads should be.

All hail Caesar

On to the main courses. Mom chose the Sake-Miso Marinated Alaskan Butterfish, which came with bright dollops of sauce, a seaweed salad, and three small sushi rolls. She loved it.

Complicated plate

Dad went with the Grilled Hangar Steak with Roasted Tomatillo Sauce and Avocado Cream, Corn-Poblano Empanadas and Chayote Squash Slaw. Phew. He also enjoyed this dish, which looked creative and complex, while still simultaneously being colorful and symmetrical.

Steak hidden underneath

My choice was the Wok-Stirred Ginger-Soy Maitake Mushrooms, with a Truffled Parmesan Flan. When I first saw this dish, which was quite large despite being only an appetizer, I thought I was in for a total grease bomb. But the mushrooms were surprisingly and mercifully ungreasy, full of tasty soy-sauce-umami and devoid of spongy mushroom texture. The flan was also a pleasant surprise-- light and eggy like an un-bruleed creme brulee, with strong flavors of both parmesan and truffle. I cleaned my plate and didn't feel sodden or sick afterwards. Well done, Ming!

My yummy mushrooms

While we didn't order dessert (there was a Dairy Queen ice cream cake in my mom's future back home...), the kitchen sent out three small keffir-lime macaroons with an oblong marzipan disk piped with "Happy Birthday" in loopy chocolate. The macaroons were really good, and the lime flavor was intriguing and surprisingly delicious, the way it is in Tostitos with a hint of lime.

Happy birthday, Mom!

All in all, we all thoroughly enjoyed the food at Blue Ginger. The service, not so much-- our waitress really seemed to be having a bad time, and she made it clear to us. Constantly. But that didn't sully our experience-- while it wasn't quite Eleven Madison Park, it was a four Offset Spatula birthday dinner of the finest degree.
583 Washington Street, Wellesley, MA

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

LWF&D eats a frozen dinner

Last week, I ate a frozen dinner. Now, I understand many people do this on a regular basis, but I don't-- pre-made meals tend not to sit well in my often-recalcitrant stomach. But last Thursday I was desperate. I had bought a bunch of delicious (and expensive) salad ingredients at Whole Foods and made myself and delightful spinach salad. I tossed it in a big bowl with a homemade vinaigrette and then tonged it out onto my plate. And there, remaining in the big bowl that the thoroughly-tossed salad had just vacated, was a huge clump of... something. Dirt? Dirt and hair? A bug that had lost most of its appendages? Who could be sure? I looked at the clump. I looked at the salad, once so tempting, now so... tainted. And with a heavy heart and a grumbling stomach, I tipped the salad into the trash.

And then I was stumped. I was hungry, and I had no more ingredients. I wasn't particularly in the mood to wait for delivery or even to go out for take-out. I had to eat. And then I remembered: buried deep in the recesses of my freezer was a Kashi frozen entree. I had bought it a while ago because I had received a coupon, making the little white box almost free. And then I'd tossed it in the freezer and forgotten about it. Every now and then, when I reached in there for some ice cream, I'd look at the meal and acknowledge that anything that so closely resembled lasagna was bound to give me indigestion. And so there it remained.

But last Thursday, I was in dire straits. Inevitable indigestion be damned-- I was going to eat my Kashi Tuscan Veggie Bake. So I followed its elaborate preparation instructions letter for letter (N.B., it took about 15 minutes to prepare, during which time I actually could have gone out to get takeout... good to know) and was soon facing this:

The Bake in all its glory

I've seen worse. It had appealing little herb flecks in the tomato sauce, and it actually smelled pretty good. So I dug in. And it was good. Between two thick noodles made of the famous Kashi grain mix lay a mixture of veggies and beans, all smothered in tomato sauce. The veggies were even identifiable-- a piece of squash here, a lentil there. It was quite good. I ate it all, save for one neglected bite of noodle. And then an hour later I had bad indigestion.

Interior veggies

But for those among us whose stomachs aren't a science experiment, I'd actually highly recommend the Kashi Tuscan Veggie Bake. It was tasty and healthy, and it resembled real food. If you're into convenience (and can disregard the fact that at more than $5 a pop, they're more expensive than the ingredients for a fresh salad), throw a few in your freezer. You'll be happy when you find yourself face-to-face with an unidentifiable brown clump.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Broadened soft-serve horizons at Kyotofu

Being a dessert lover, it's a bit odd that I don't go to Kyotofu, NYC's now-famous Japanese dessert emporium, more often. It's right around the corner from my apartment, and I've been a couple times before and the treats are delicious, if a bit exotic for my taste. But one thing I notice every time I pass by is the fact that they have Japanese soymilk soft serve ice cream, available to go. I've never tried it, preferring as I do regular milk-based ice cream, but the other day I stopped in for a taste of the vanilla. It was ah-kay, not good enough to dissuade me from my path to Coldstone. But it stuck in my mind. I found myself craving the texture, the almost soupy, strangely granular, loose but creamy texture. So on Friday evening I made my way there, saw that one of their flavors was vanilla-almond, and was sold.

Was it good? Suffice it to say I was back the very next day with AV. My choice both nights was a small cup of vanilla-almond with homemade fruit compote. The almond flavor was delicate, melting down into a background of simple, creamy, vanilla-inflected smooth lightness. And the fruit compote was like sweet, melted jam. The combination-- along with the admirably ample size-- was killer.

A delicious sundae treat

AV chose a cup of the vanilla-almond with kuromitsu whipped cream. The whipped cream had a great light texture and a faint hint of nuttiness, quite delicious but not surpassing the fruit compote as my topping of choice.

With tentacles of whipped cream

If you like ice cream, don't be dissuaded from the soymilk nature of this treat. Stop in for a taste, and I guarantee you'll find yourself drawn back again, and again, and again...

705 Ninth Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tea & company at Podunk

It was a rainy and dreary Saturday, but my friend SY and I had a date to meet up for coffee (which for us means tea). She suggested a place called Podunk, in the East Village. So I made the trek on the subway to check out this purported homey tea salon.

Pushing through the screen door that guards the entrance, you immediately know that you're in for a treat. It's a small shop with a mishmash of tables and chairs, all conducive to lounging. A kindly lady stands behind the counter, handing out cute cloth-covered menus and answering any questions that come up. SY and I placed our orders, went back to our seats to lounge, and a short while later returned to the counter to pick up the breakfast-in-bed tray covered with our goodies.

The cute li'l menu

SY had ordered a cream tea, which came with scones, incredibly-fresh looking berries, two types of jam, and a little container of sweet whipped cream. It was all so delicate, from the tiny silverware to the miniature cups, that I was charmed. SY was charmed too-- and thrilled by the delicious sugared scones.

SY's cream tea

My own choice was something I'd been craving, a pot of toasted green vanilla tea. Toasted green tea, which I had first tasted at Eleven Madison Park, is something else-- sort of like Rice Krispies, but more delicate and savory. The touch of vanilla was divine with a splash of milk and a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of fake sugar. Delicious, relaxing, and calming.

A beautiful, civilized spread

Podunk isn't cheap-- a pot of tea for one cost just under $9. But for a couple of hours of lingering and conversation, it's well worth the expense. Stop in for a quiet cuppa today and you'll see what I mean.

231 East 5th Street, between 3rd and 2nd Avenues

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Land. It's delicious.

On one of the most beautiful Sunday evenings this year, AV and I were on the UES and we were hungry. Nevermind that it was 5PM; it was dinnertime, dammit. We wandered down 2nd Avenue, debating the merits of various places we bumped into, but ultimately, as we approached Land, the call of the dumplings was too strong to resist. We settled into an empty table on the sidewalk and awaited deliciousness.

First up, of course, were the dumplings. Gosh, we love these dumplings. They're full of incredible peanutnutty, vegetably goodness that's pretty much indescribable-- hence the made-up words. But if you like dumplings, or if you like anything that tastes good, you should head to Land and try them out yourself.

Dumplings awaiting utensils

Interior shot, with dipping sauce inside

As a change of pace from the usual wok beef with basil, AV tried the pad thai with shrimp. It went over quite well, and my one stolen forkful of noodles was admirably delicious.

Peanutty Pad

My own selection was the Land salad. It had romaine lettuce, chunks of beets, hard boiled eggs, and little bits of fried tofu ("tofu crouton"). While all the elements were good (especially the lime-peanut dressing, which I got on the side and then proceeded to eat pretty much all of), I was a bit puzzled by the fact that the various parts didn't really mesh together that well. That is, all the individual components tasted good, they just didn't complement each other. Does that make sense? Plus the tiny bowl made it exceedingly difficult to eat the salad without having the ingredients fall all over the place. But that delicious peanut dressing made up for a lot, believe me...

Cobb salad, Thai style

And there we had yet another successful four Offset Spatula excursion to Land. We'll be back, Land, we'll be back.

Land Thai Kitchen
1565 Second Avenue, between 81st and 82nd

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

LWF&D gets a first look (and taste, and sip) at SD26...

Last night, something incredible happened. At the last minute, I received notice that I had won a contest on Eater, receiving for my delightfully creative (ahem) interpretation of "Chef's Marathon" (man on chicken) two tickets to the Eater-sponsored back-to-school party at the yet-to-open SD26. A flurry of panicked phone calls later, AV was summoned, we were in our party-going finery, and we were standing outside a velvet rope on 26th street on the north side of Madison Square Park.

Once past the clipboard-wielders (yes, my name was on the list! Exciting!), we found ourselves in the bar area of a swanky new restaurant, surrounded by beautiful people eating beautiful things. The first noteworthy design element of the restaurant was the enomatic machine lighting up the sleek black bar.

Enomatic! And multiple size pours, which is great.

We only had a little while to admire the wines protected behind glass, though, because at that point the food started coming and didn't stop until we peeled ourselves out of a table a few hours later and forced ourselves out on the street for the good of our own personal health. But in the meantime, in the bar area, we were first offered a seafood/bean/tomato soup of sorts; AV, as the official taster, pronounced it something close to the best thing he'd ever tasted.

Seafood soup in tiny tureen

With beans 'n' pasta

That is, until he tasted the next offering: Meatballs! Pork and beef and perhaps some other meat, with olive tapenade and possibly crack. AV could barely express his nearly-unrestrained enthusiasm for this bite.

Little meatball soldiers

A perfect little sandwich

And then there was some sort of meat thing, with something that looked like foie gras. "Stupidly good."

Meat & stuff

Keep in mind that we were still at the bar area at this point; we hadn't made it more than 10 steps into the restaurant. At this point we decided to move to the actual bar to grab ourselves some cocktails. I had my eye on bubbly. We were midway through muscling our way into the bar crowd when I spotted a young partygoer. With a plate. That had cheese. CHEESE. Given that nothing else so far had been vegetarian, my radar went off with a crackle and our bar mission was abandoned; WE MUST FIND THIS CHEESE. Nearly sprinting further into the restaurant, we moved through a dark tunnel into the main dining room, where we found the following sight:


With prosciutto slicer

I can't believe I didn't take any pictures of my cheese plate concoctions, but rest assured I stuffed myself with pecorino, parmesan, fresh ricotta from an enormous bowl, and a handful of other extremely high quality Italian cheeses. There were also breads-- I went for some to-die-for focaccia, chewy and flavorful. Midway through our four or five cheese plates apiece I made my way to the bar and grabbed us each a glass of Nicholas Feuillate champagne, which went down like Perrier with the sharp cheeses and bread.


We had snagged seats at a table in the dining room, and from there we ate our cheese and held court, observing the others around us. The space itself is interesting-- deep within the building, it's windowless, but it's still bright and airy, with very high ceilings, a bright open kitchen, and a balcony overlooking the main floor on two sides of the rectangle. There's also a handful of private rooms spoking off from the main floor, which could be an interesting place to have a private dinner. But back to the food-- while we were seated, we grabbed delightful items from the servers passing apps around us. As follows:

Snapper tartare with an incredibly good salad

Carbonara-like pasta?

Lamb croquette

Some pasta we couldn't identify that wasn't a huge winner. Plus another meatball.

Oh, and in the meantime, a few shots of the room, the kitchen, and the crowd:

The main dining room

The balcony

The open kitchen

A man carrying a huge salami

At that point, we scampered up the stairs to check out the view from the top. And the views were pretty great:

Another view of the dining room

The weird multicolored hairballs adorning the wall

Close-up of hairballs

Hairballs and patrons from a different angle

More open kitchen action

On the upstairs balcony, we came upon an unmanned table offering two large plates of pasta. Nobody was there and we didn't feel comfortable helping ourselves, so we didn't take any. We turned our attention to the upstairs bar, which was mercifully free from crowds. AV worked his magic and managed to rustle up a signature house drink (don't know what was in that, but it was STRONG) and a couple of mojitos. They were delicious and packed a huge punch.

Pasta 'n' sauce

Pasta 'n' fish

Signature drink in front; mojito in back. Huge glasses.

While the drinks were in motion, I noticed a server behind the pasta table, and I snagged us a plate. The two offerings were a thick strand pasta in tomato and parmesan and a pasta salad of sorts with cherry tomatoes and seafood. I tried the tomato pasta, which would have been delicious but unfortunately was no longer piping hot. No matter; we were happy (and full!) enough.


So, in the end, we were stuffed. We were drunk. And we were very happy. Grabbing focaccia breadsticks to munch on our way out, we lugged ourselves through the door to prevent our stomachs from exploding. It was such a cool experience-- to dine in the midst of celebrities (at least a few Top Chef-testants were spotted, including Harold Dieterle and Dave Martin) in a new restaurant on a beautiful night in New York City. Oh, and it seemed as though SD26 would be a truly promising restaurant, so keep your eyes out for when it opens... it should be quite something! Many thanks to Eater for an incredible, delicious, and truly memorable night.